The following post was an assignment for the Sports Business Institute Barcelona Football Communication & Social Media course.
Heineken, a Dutch brewing company, has been a sponsor of the UEFA Champions League since 1994 and will be an official partner of the elite club competition until 2015 (UEFA.org 2011). The company has come up with very entertaining brand activation campaigns in past years, such as their “The Candidate” campaign, where Heineken lets job applicants for a job connected to the UEFA Champions League go through a very humorous application process (watch the video here).
In recent years, Heineken has also embraced social media and adopted the popular Twitter Q&A sessions on their @Heineken account. According to Twitter, “Twitter Q&As give fans a unique view of TV shows, events and special access to stars, celebrities and those in the news. (Twitter.com 2014)” Brands usually announce the time they will be doing the Q&A and ask followers to submit questions in the day or two prior to the event and come up with a specific hashtag to use so that people can easily join in the conversation (ibid).
Instead of simply interviewing a person of interest, Heineken created a campaign called #ShareTheSofa, which in my opinion could also be regarded as a online variety show. Fastcocreate.com writes that “With its #ShareTheSofa campaign, which is running throughout the tournament until the May 25 final, Heineken is allowing fans to directly connect with former UCL superstars over Twitter. During select matches, people can connect with stars such as Ruud Gullit, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Owen Hargreaves, Hernan Crespo, and Fernando Morientes, who will be on hand to respond by tweet, photo, or Vine video. Responses can be funny or tactical, depending on the personality of the player, but the goal is for people to feel as though they’re really connecting with the players (Fastcocreate.com 2014).”
On the date of writing this post, Heineken’s last #ShareTheSofa event took place on the day of the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final, 29 April 2014. The event was hosted by Fernando Morientes, a Spanish retired footballer, who has played for Real Madrid, Liverpool and others. The event also included guests such as ‘the singing bartender’, New York’s finest cheerleaders, and musical guests Isaiah & Masai Electro. Even though the audience might have expected Fernando Morientes to answer the questions sent to the #ShareTheSofa hashtag, some of the guests also answered questions. As mentioned above, the event projected the feeling of a variety show. For instance, the singing bartender actually ‘sang’ his answers (see here). Or, their Bayern cheerleaders put together a chant to lift Bayern’s spirits (see here). And, at half-time, Fernando showed off his skills (see here). The event was enriched with different media format, from simple text-tweets to picture banners to Vine videos, which made the communication multifaceted. In addition, by creating a virtual show with more than just a Q&A session, the scope of #ShareTheSofa broadened and eventually the event became more entertaining and arguably interesting to a wider audience. Hence, a wider audience might have resulted in more engagement and ultimately, in an increased brand exposure that boosts perception.
Booth and Matic (2010: 16-17) claim that “corporate marketing never had control of the brand. The ownership of the brand and its reputation has always belonged to the consumer. … Public relations professionals know that the key to influencing a brand’s perception in the social media space is to concentrate on mastering relationships.” Mastering relationships is exactly what Heineken aims to do with the #ShareTheSofa campaign. However, it is crucial to understand that before entering a relationship with the target audience, Heineken ‘competes for attention and relevance, which is the foundation for success in engagement (Solis 2010: 31).’ In the context of ‘how connected consumers perceive the essence of a brand’, Brian Solis (2010: 173) claims that “In the human network, brands that incorporate emotional hooks stand a far greater chance of connecting during engagement in critical touchpoints than those that rely on brand legacy.” Projecting Mr. Solis’ statement onto the #ShareTheSofa campaign, it can be observed that Heineken touches upon all points of the brand essence model.
1) Focus: Heineken lays focus on #ShareTheSofa hashtag and creates the event/show around it.
2) Feeling: The goal is to convey emotions and share them with the audience.
3) Individuality: Every #ShareTheSofa event includes new guests and is per se individual and different.
4) Experiential: #ShareTheSofa is not just a Twitter Q&A session. It is a unique experience – as mentioned above, an online variety show.
5) Consistency: The campaign is consistent in its concept and returns on UEFA Champions League match-days.
6) Credibility: Its credibility is given by the high-level guests, the quality of the production of its content, and the brand legacy of UEFA and Heineken.
7) Longevity: It is safe to assume that both Twitter and the UEFA Champions League will be around for another few years to come.
8) Personal: Football is a big part of many peoples’ lives and the UEFA Champions League is a widely followed event. Plus, asking questions directly to a celebrity, without having to go through intermediaries, makes #ShareTheSofa even more personal.
9) Portable: #ShareTheSofa on Twitter is the perfect format for second-screening on portable devices during a potentially fast-paced football game that lasts 90 minutes.
Nonetheless, live events can bear certain risks. In regard to technology, what if the Twitter Fail Whale makes its appearance and brings down Twitter? Or, what if the internet connection of the location where #ShareTheSofa takes place is unstable? That would result in a blackout of the show and eventually in a commercial loss. The audience might wonder why the show is not proceeding and might not tune in next time again. Additionally, considering the devious nature of so-called haters, what if trolls assault the event and take over the conversation and its hashtag, or simply unleash a situation marked by violent controversy onto the show? It might be more than just challenging for Heineken’s community manager to keep up with negative comments and try to calm the situation. Having at least two professionals for that role is definitely a must.
A very likely threat is that competitors could try to ambush the event by using the #ShareTheSofa hashtag. It is safe to assume that the hashtag is not and will not be copyrighted and can therefore be used by anyone. A competitor’s brand could come up with a creative ambush campaign to ride on Heineken’s success. That could be, promoting a beer brand in the same context and include the hashtag #ShareTheSofa in the tweet. A concrete example of an ambush tweet could look like this:
@heineken We’re enjoying tonight’s football action here in Switzerland with our finest local beer (picture of brand X). #sharethesofa
I do not know how much such a tweet would infringe copyrights. I assume that it can be considered simple communication from one Twitter user to another, rather than a commercial message. In any case, Heineken should have an action plan ready for such an ambush. From my experience and observations, I suggest preparing a plan that does not fight such communication, but instead engages the ambusher in a more entertaining dialogue for the entire audience to enjoy. Just think of the friendly Twitter battle between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) after their 2014 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals showdown. Mail Online (2014) described that “Just minutes after [PSG] beat Chelsea 3-1 in Paris, the PSG twitter feed whirred into action and the gloating began. With a photo of the famous Sacre Coeur basilica as a background, PSG had the words: ‘Dear Chelsea fans. For better Parisian souvenirs, better try Montmartre’ (Dailymail.co.uk 2014).” It did not take Chelsea long to reply and the interaction continued with witty statements from both sides. Replies and countless retweets from each side, and from their Twitter audience, created an entertaining experience that projected a sympathetic image onto both brands. Hence, benefiting both, Chelsea and PSG.
These are just a few of the externalities that can contribute to hurt the brand of everyone involved. It is advisably to think of all risks and create a crisis action plan, as well as a crisis communication plan to minimize drawbacks. It needs to be the producers’ highest priority to keep the brands from all its guests safe. As proven by different chaotic and unpleasant situations that broke out on Facebook, Twitter, etc., social media operate in a very incalculable environment, and preparation for the worst case is a must.
I find Heineken’s #ShareTheSofa campaign a great way to enjoy the UEFA Champions League. Many brands try to create a valuable second-screen experience, but often end up simply tweeting out questions and answering some of them. #ShareTheSofa on the other hand, enriches the football game experience with a Q&A for the fan who seeks engagement, with fun for those who want to be entertained, with valuable technical commentary by a professional or retired footballer, and all of that including different media-formats (text, video, pictures). Furthermore, being recurring makes it easy to become loyal to the event and eventually to the beer brand. Definitely a great campaign idea by Heineken.